Tuesday, 30 December 2014

29th December 2014 - Wakefield, West Yorkshire and review of year

I managed to get a few days off this year in between Christmas and New Year, and so when a possible THAYER'S GULL was found in West Yorks, it fitted in nicely with visiting the wintering BLYTH'S PIPIT near to Pugneys CP.

I arrived at Mirfield just after 08:00hrs, but it took quite a while to suss the area out and for all the birders to get together. We had an Iceland Gull fly over, but the flock of large gulls never really settled, and when they did they were out of view on warehouse roofs. Eventually they circled and all flew off. 

The Blyth's Pipit was only 25 minutes away so I headed over. I stood for an hour waiting for something to happen and then it did. One of the locals very kindly walked through the area, and out popped the Blyth's Pipit. A brief flight along with a nice call and it landed on the other side of the road in a culvert...with short grass. This allowed everyone to get a decent view and the cameras were clicking away.


 Blyth's Pipit near to Wakefield, West Yorks

This is the grass where it showed so well

This is where it hides until it's organised flushed out.  

Satisfied with my views, I headed over to Pugney's hoping that the possible Thayer's was going to roost again. I told the posh bloke from Bedfordshire standing next to me at 14:30hrs that the roost wasn't going to form, as there were only about ten large gulls present. By 15:30hrs it wasn't quite at Chasewater levels, in fact there were only about 50 gulls present. Having done a roost before, I just had that gut feeling. There was no sign of the Thayers in a much reduce sized roost was the official line. I stood for nearly two hours on a frozen bank, and I have to admit, I gave up before it was dark as I was just absolutely frozen. Heaters on full all the way back thawed me out nicely.

And so that's it for 2014. No need to review the year as you can read all about it on my blog. And so 2015 will begin in a few days time. And what do we expect next year from us? CJW hopefully will reach a listing milestone and finally get to join the @NGBirders 200 Club. BUBO says he's about 12 short, so maybe by the second weekend in January he should get there. He also is celebrating his 60th birthday next year. A celebration trip is already being planned. Fingers crossed and Staffordshire birding will kick into life again soon. It's been quite a quiet spell or even quiet a quite spell recently, but we'll keep plodding on looking for that big one. Maybe next year we'll do a Barrymore and strike it lucky and find a big one. 

Big thanks this year goes to the other three Clayheads who had to drive me around during January and February when I was unable to drive. Much appreciated and hope you all enjoyed finally being able to walk faster than me for a short time. 

Apologies now. 

First to PJ. PJ offered to take me up to Tittesworth to see the Lesser Scaup. It was a bird I wanted to see as I'd been putting the news out daily whilst in hospital. So what better way to announce my return to birding than a trip up the moors. However it was only five days after I'd come out of intensive care (true fact), and maybe looking back it was a bit too soon. But I managed it, we saw the bird and PJ dropped me off outside my house. The last thing I said to him as I got out of the car was "Watch the balls". (We have low lying street furniture in the street and if you forget about them and drive forward, it hurts the car a bit). Poor old PJ did me a huge favour, took me out, then wrote off his car outside my house. 

Secondly to CJW who had to watch as I walked/stood on the slippiest bank in the world while watching the Gloucs/Wiltshire Red-flanked Bluetail. It was only four weeks after surgery and he was slightly worried as to what happened if I fell over. (I would have split open again Chris and made a mess of your car)
 Stunning days indeed. The bank was incredibly slippy so we stood on it.

And for my bird of the year?

Take your pick

See you all in 2015. 

Saturday, 6 December 2014

6th December 2014 - The Strange tale of the Westport Smew

I'm not sure whether you know this or not, but it's December now, and the days aren't as long as they are in June or July. Back in the summer, I could easily visit Westport before work, arriving before 06:00hrs on some days to give the site a thorough grilling. In December though, morning visits are out of the question and even afternoon visits are a bit of a rush. I do try and visit the lake every afternoon during the week, but if I get held up at work or stuck in traffic then there's no chance of making it. 

On Wednesday 3rd December, I arrived quite late in the afternoon, parking up at 15:45hrs. As the light was already fading, I didn't bother with my wellies and just walked round in my work shoes. This meant I stuck to the paths and I didn't stand on my usual jetty to scan the lake. I counted the tufted and pochard as per usual, highlight being a drake Goldeneye and I returned home. Run of the mill visit. Happens every night.

But then it went bang and pop. I received an email sent from a gentleman with whom we'd had a few reports sent into Staffsbirdnews in the past. The email contained a photograph of a redhead SMEW taken at Westport at 13:00hrs. Smew is quite a Westport mega with only a handful of sightings in the past. I've sort of missed two previously over the years and still needed it for my list. 

The doubts started to go round my head. Had I missed it in my haste? Had I been complacent and not done a proper check? Could I really have counted the ducks with the Smew under water all the time? Did my bum really look big in these trousers?

I convinced myself that the Smew must have flown off and I wasn't really complacent and sloppy. PLo said he would check the lake in the morning and so all was calm. By the time he had arrived, DK had already been on site since 07:30hrs and there was no sign. But it then transpired that another visitor had seen the SMEW whilst walking around at 15:45hrs. Exactly the same time as I arrived. He'd rang another birder to say he had thought he'd seen a SMEW (thanks for passing the message on), returned to his car to fetch his bins but when he returned to the lake at 15:55hrs there was no sign. The mystery deepened when DK said he'd been checking the gulls at 14:30hrs and seen no SMEW. It was all very odd. 

Thursday and Friday afternoon produced no further sightings and we spent from 07:30hrs to 10:00hrs on site on Saturday morning. We wandered off to the pits still discussing the mystery of the Smew. 

Then, PLo rang me to say he'd met Simon Middleton (the original finder) by the top pool who told him the SMEW was again present. PLo checked and there it was. He rang us, we put the news out and hurtled back along the A50, arriving at Westport about 45 mins later. The boys on the bank hadn't seen the Smew for ten mins but following an anxious wait, it was found again in the bottom corner. It was the largest gathering at Westport since the last time something was found (CJW's Glaucous Gull maybe?), and we saw the Suttons, the Carthy's, Karl, Bill M, Gronk, young Bromley plus several faces I didn't recognise, along with PLo and PJ.

This is the 5th record of Smew at Westport, the first for 17yrs. It's also my 3rd Westport tick of the year, even though my year list total is one of the lowest for quite a few years. Photos below are taken by PJ.

1986 - A drake was seen on February 23rd and March 1st.
1991 - Two redheads were seen on February 17th.
1996 - A redhead seen on December 9th.
1997 - A redhead arrived on January 29th with a party of Goosander and was still present the following day.
2014 - A first-winter drake was seen on 3rd and 6th December.


Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Nov 30th 2014 - Great Grey Shrike, Swynnerton Old Park

November 2014 had been a largely forgettable month for those with British lists of over 250. I'd not left the county and had mainly been watching the gravel pits, hoping to strike it lucky. The best bird so far had been the early Smew at Belvide.

Finally on the last day of the month, a few bits appeared for us to see. Originally we had hoped to go to Cleveland to see the ISABELLINE WHEATEAR but it did a Thursday night flit instead of the usual Friday night. So we decided to stay in Staffordshire instead.

After finishing off at Westport, we all met up at Hanchurch where a Great Grey Shrike had been found the previous day. By the time we arrived, the Shrike was already being watched by a small crowd of North Staffordshire birding stalwarts. It put on a fine display as it fed in front of us, perching on the stumps and coming quite close at times.


A small gathering of North Staffordshire's birders

The video and the drawing

Phil Jones latest artwork

We were heading off towards the East Staffs pits when we received news of a GREEN-WINGED TEAL came on from Derbyshire. We were heading that way and it was still relatively early so it fitted in nicely with the day. It took CJW ages to find the site as it was just by the junction of the A38 and A61 - a roundabout we fly round many times on the way east (sorry Flyboy but not that type of flying!). All we knew was that it was on some floods. We drove down the A61 a short way, parked up and walked back to view the floods. Second teal I saw was the Green-winged Teal. It was as easy as that. Petty we were standing next to such a busy road.

The flood field just before the roundabout at the A38/A61 junction. A new site for us

And so we finally arrived at the gravel pits where the highlight of the visit was a very large gull roost. We managed to find at least three Yellow-legged Gulls, adult Mediterranean Gull and a fine adult Caspian Gull. It's amazing what you can see in Staffordshire.

A few photos of the Caspian Gull